Thein Sein calls for unity

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has presided over considerable reforms. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar’s outgoing president, Thein Sein, called for unity among political parties in the national interest and said he would back the new government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking to a Parliament which expires today (Friday), Thein Sein outlined the achievements of his five-year term.

He has presided over the transformation of the pariah state of 51.5 million mostly impoverished people in to one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Thein Sein released most political prisoners (while a lot more were arrested under his rule), ended most censorship, legalised trade unions and state-authorised protests.

He organised elections in November praised by international observers and has worked to transfer power to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

The president also mentioned better access to health care and education and greater freedom of information among his reforms.

“This is a triumph for all Myanmar’s people. As the winning party needs to work for the national interest, the minority parties also need to cooperate and, sometimes, criticise if necessary for the country,” said the 70-year-old president, who will stay in office until the end of March, despite being electorally crushed in November.

Thein Sein’s took a conciliatory tone, explaining his collaboration with former adversaries.

“Our government will help the new government. I have tried my best for not turning back to the situations in the past. I made the most reasonable decisions in my right and power as the president. We tried to forget personal feelings and worked for the country and the people,” said Thein Sein.

The upper house, the lower house and the 25-per-cent bloc of military representatives in parliament will put forward one presidential candidate each. The combined houses will vote on the next president.

The NLD, which won about 80 per cent of all contested seats, can chose the president but Suu Kyi is ineligible because the junta-drafted 2008 constitution prevents her from taking the role. The notorious Section 59(F) rules that no one with a foreign spouse or child can become president. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British citizens.

Suu Kyi, also 70, now has a huge weight of expectation on her shoulders. The Nobel laureate faces a daunting challenge in the impoverished nation, riven by corruption and gripped by numerous civil wars between ethnic minorities. Religious tensions with the impoverished, persecuted Muslim minority are never far away, with Suu Kyi constantly being accused of being too close to the Islamic community.

The new NLD MPs, many of whom are political novices from a diverse range of backgrounds, will form the new parliament on Monday.